Hopeful in 2024

by Rebecca Crichton

Last year was not an easy one for many people. Diagnoses and deaths, disappointments and what feels like more existential despair than ever before. The climate, the conflicts around the world, the current election season. Just touching on them in conversations causes me to literally hold up my hands to stop going down any of those rabbit holes. Nonetheless, I know I still need to wade into the turbulence roiling around me so I can move forward.

This first essay of 2024 acknowledges what last year held and focuses on going forward. What helps me sort through the options of both action and thinking are open-ended questions which encourage reflection and discovery. I joke that often people don’t really listen to what is being said or asked, they are too busy ‘reloading’ their response instead of listening to what is being offered by others. A truly open-ended inquiry doesn’t include the assumed answer.

Here are some of the questions I ask myself and offer you this year:

  • How do I not feel overwhelmed by everything? What thoughts, behaviors and conversations can help me manage it all?
  • How can I feel effective? What does that mean? What do I need to remember or explore to achieve that?
  • How do I navigate the various demands and decisions I make daily to stay healthy and active?
  • How do I get stronger? I know that building strength is critical for aging well. That is not only about my body getting stronger, it is about recognizing what my strengths are and honoring and developing them.
  • Where do I fall on the spectrum of caring for others and caring for myself?
  • Who do I turn to for support? How do I talk with others about what’s important to me?
  • How do I build resilience? What does that mean for each of us?

Many years ago, a colleague said that she doesn’t strive to balance her life.  Instead, she wants it to harmonize it. I belong to a women’s choir called the North Seattle Treble Makers. It’s a no-audition, no-performance chorus, where we sing for the pleasure of it. We sing in parts where the melody might be with the sopranos or mezzos, with occasional moments when the altos lead. We need all the parts. We need to listen to each other to make sure we have blended our voices enough to achieve the best version of the song.  

Each voice counts. Everybody contributes to the whole. Our gifted conductor knows how to coax and encourage us to sing our best. She never shames or criticizes in ways that leave us feeling inadequate. She believes in us and in the outcome of our shared intention.

Thus, another question: How do we bring harmony into our lives to sustain and challenge us?

In Martin Seligman’s seminal book, Learned Optimism, he describes how optimists and pessimists think. He emphasizes the most important measure for how we manage life’s uncertainties is how hopeful we are. 

On a recent Hidden Brain episode, Hidden Brain: Moving from Despair to Hope on Apple Podcasts, the interviewer said that hope is a way of thinking about your future.

For many people, allowing hope in, holding it as a possibility, feels harder than ever before. And that might be the toughest challenge of all as we transition from 2023 to 2024.

What would adding a big dose of Hope to your life mean? How would it look? What would you do differently? Might there even be examples of hope in your past that you can bring forward and renew in the present?

And if that feels too uncomfortable or scary, think about what you would hope for the people in your life. Imagine blessing them with those wishes and then allow those outward facing hopes to come back to you.